Hank Marvin Inspired, Fender “Classic ’50’s” Stratocaster. Replacing the neck.

I’ve already fitted gold hardware to a Mexican Fender, all-maple neck. It was originally intended for an abandoned, Gold-leafed Stratocaster project, but it’ll do just as well here. A more period-accurate replica of a late 50’s Strat would normally feature a 21 fret, 7.5″ radius, vintage style neck. I got a good deal on another pre-owned, (but unused), vintage neck which should work just as well – but it too, is already fitted out – this time with nickel hardware. Pulling the bushings out of old necks can sometimes be a bit tricky. It’s so easy to damage the lacquer on the headstock face. I think I’m minded to take the risk-free route.

The replacement neck for the “Classic 50’s” Stratocaster will therefore be the brand new, 22 fret, 9.5″ radius Fender “Player” neck, as I repurpose it from it’s original project. The 22 frets will overhang the pickguard a little more, but I don’t actually mind the slightly flatter fingerboard. I am a fan of 7.5″ necks – but I do find there’s a little bit more of a tendency for bent notes to “choke”, unless the frets have been levelled to absolute perfection. Choking bends on a Hank Marvin Stratocaster is a no-no.

Checking the fit of the neck into the neck pocket – and it’s clear that there’s way more than enough clearance. In fact, the neck pocket fit is loose. Although the pre-drilled screw holes in the neck look to match those in the body well enough – there’s way too much movement at the neck joint. I’ll also need to check the neck alignment properly.

Looking closely at the neck pocket – I can see that the shape isn’t quite right. Some Dakota Red stain and overspray is still evident on the sides of the pocket, and there are no signs of sanding – (all of which might indicate that the size has been changed, or the shape altered to fit a non-standard neck). Looks like the router might have hit a shake or an irreglarity in the timber and maybe cut in a bit deep. If I run my finger round the back of the pocket – I think I can feel a bit of a hump and dip. I’ve heard of a few Mexican Fender bodies where the neck pocket turns out to be a “little bit wayward”. I think it’s what you probably get with cost-cutting, mass production.

It’s still possible to fit a neck to a slightly “off” pocket, As long as the neck is held straight in relation to the body, there’s no other reason to prevent the guitar from performing properly. However, it’s always good to try and ensure that there’s enough direct wood to wood contact wherever possible. Ideally – I want to try and pack out the pocket slightly, to provide the correct alignment, and so the neck touches the edges of the pocket all the way around the join.

The 22 fret overhang means I can’t visually inspect the neck to ensure the contact, right at the heel, is consistent. I can peer in a little from the sides – but that doesn’t really tell me what I need to know. If I wiggle the neck around – it feels as if there’s a reasonable amount of friction. It looks to me like the router might have bit in at the lower bottom corner of the neck pocket. The corresponding corner of the neck heel seems to be able to push in a little bit more – pulling the neck slightly off-line. Looks like I’ll need to check the alignment, and sort out a solution with a bit of a shim.

I fit the neck using Stainless Steel bolts, and the pre-drilled holes. I’m using a serial stamped neck plate, which has a number which would correspond to a circa 1958, sort of time period. In fact, I originally used this plate on my Jimmy Page Dragoncaster project. I’ve had a bit of a re-jig altogether with numbered plates. I obtained a correctly numbered, reproduction serial plate to finish off my Dave Gilmour, Black Strat project, which I completed last year. That meant the #70737 plate I’d originally assigned there, could now be fitted to my 1962 styled Jaguar. Also – I got hold of a stainless steel Callaham plate with a 1959, 37XXX number – perfect for my Jimmy Page Dragoncaster. That means the spare #33023 from there, can now find it’s period correct home on my “Classic 50’s” rebuild. True – it’s a chrome plate amongst all the other gold hardware – but I put these reproduction plates on my guitars for personal identification, as much as anything.

With the bolts lubricated with wax, and with the plate tightened up – I can now fit some spare strings, and check the alignment properly. The first fitting shows that the neck is sitting slightly high in the pocket, and slightly off straight. There’s a gap just underneath the the neck which is big enough to shove a guitar pick into. I have some maple veneer which measures out at a touch over 0.020″ thick. I cut a small shim, and try to push it into the gap. It’s a little bit too big – so I sand a little off the thickness. Eventually I get it to fit. I want it to just fit in there, without too much pressure. I don’t want to cause the finish around the pocket to fracture. These Mexican, poly-finished Strats seem to be especially prone to the finishes cracking around the neck.

I fit another couple of strings – so I can see how the middle pair “frame” the dot markers on the neck. By using four strings – I can simultaneously assess how high or low the neck is – by checking how the strings sit on the neck, (the two “E” strings need to be equidistant from each edge). I can also see how straight the neck is, by checking that the dot markers sit correctly between the middle two strings – all along the entire length of the neck. (It’s worth checking that the nut is properly aligned first – before doing any of this – that way you can be sure of what you’re getting all the way up the neck).

To get the neck to sit correctly – I find I also need to shim the neck all along the top side of the pocket. Of course – since the neck is out of line, the shim therefore needs to be wedge shaped – running the full depth of the top edge of the neck pocket. I need to find a way to create a very fine, long, and evenly tapering wedge. Something which runs from 0.020″ to nothing, over a couple of inches. Fortunately, I have a spare neck shim from StewMac which trims down, and can be adjusted with a little flat sanding, to provide the perfect solution. The neck is secured with the shim in the correct place, and on test-fitting, everything now seems to line up perfectly. I still can’t see what exactly is going on under that 22nd fret, but there’s a good amount of vibration, from the strings, transmitting all along the neck now, and I think the neck is just about where it should be. Before the neck is fitted for the final time – I colour the top of the shim inserts with a little nail varnish to match the red colour of the body. Most of the top shim will eventually be hidden by the fitted scratchplate – but what little of it remains – is now, at least,  reasonably well colour matched. Before the neck is finally pushed home, I dab a little wood glue behind each shim. Not enough so it’ll squeeze out and foul the neck – but just a dab, to hold the shims firmly in place.

The neck screws are fully tightened, and I can check that the parchment coloured, Fender “Pure Vintage”, single-ply pickguard fits properly. Sometimes, when you fit pickguards to pre-drilled bodies, the neck cut out isn’t quite right, and you need to make a few adjustments to ensure that the screw holes all align, with the plate sitting correctly at neck pocket and bridge. Turns out this one fits perfectly.

Dakota red, gold, maple, parchment. Looks quite a pretty combination.

Last job is to tap out that fake bone nut, and fit a decent replacement. I read an article a while back where Hank Marvin sang the praises of Teflon coated nuts. With so many finger bends, and with some extra-fine tremolo work to deal with – Teflon nuts are supposed to provide a “pre-lubricated” solution where a sticky nut might lead to troublesome tuning problems. The only Teflon nuts I can find are “Tusq XL”, and the only Fender sized nut I can find in stock anywhere at the moment, happens to be available in any colour you like – so long as it’s black.

Black nut

Then I find a picture which shows Hank playing a Fiesta Red Stratocaster. I don’t know if it’s “The One” from 1957, (I think he sold that to Bruce Welch a while back) – but that sure looks like a black nut in there! And if I’m not mistaken – that’s a 22 fret neck too. Looks like I’m not too far off theme, after all.

The nut needs a bit of final shaping to fit correctly, and the little tab underneath needs filing off to make sure the nut sits correctly in the slot, which has a curved bottom – matching the radius of the neck. The slots are pre-marked but will need proper sizing and filing when I set the guitar up. Looking good. All I need to do now, is fit the electrics.

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